THE future of children's heart surgery in Southampton has finally been secured after years of uncertainty.

The surgical unit at Southampton General Hospital has escaped a round of closures devised by NHS bosses, who are planning to axe eight similar centres across the UK.

They want children's heart surgery to be performed at fewer "centres of excellence" to improve standards and safety.

In 2011 the Southampton unit was given only a 25-per-cent chance of survival as the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts looked to cut the number of facilities.

Its future looked secure after health bosses listened to the 250,000 people who signed the Daily Echo's Have a Heart petition, launched in response to the closure threat.

But health chiefs continued to carry out a review triggered by the Bristol heart unit scandal in the 1990s, when up to 35 babies and children were deemed to have died needlessly.

Over the past 12 months NHS England has conducted a further audit of the 22 children's heart units in England. They have now decided to axe a third of the units but Southampton and the others are staying open - and will take on all the additional work.

The news will come as a huge relief to campaigners who have spent years fighting to secure the future of the Southampton facility.

An NHS England spokesman said: "We owe it to patients, families and staff to provide clear direction for the safety and quality of this specialist area.

"We are determined to take all actions necessary to ensure that those standards are met."

Dr Kevin Roman, a consultant paediatric cardiologist and clinical lead at Southampton Children’s Hospital, said: “Staff in our unit have continued to provide the highest standards of treatment and care for patients and their families in recent years despite much uncertainty over the future of children’s heart surgery services in England.

“During that time, we have maintained our position as one of the top-performing centres in the country and, in partnership with Oxford Children’s Hospital, have continued to work successfully towards meeting the requirements set out by NHS England to deliver the best possible care to patients in the south.

“We are delighted for the patients, families and staff across the Oxford-Southampton Congenital Cardiac Network and we will continue to work with all our regional partners to produce a high quality, sustainable service for all in our care over the coming months and years.”